Lymphoma in Welsh Corgis
A corgi owner's experience with chemo treatment
Malignant lymphoma or lymphosarcoma is one of the most common tumors in dogs. They usually originate in lymphoid tissues, like the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. However, they can arise in any tissues in the body. Lymphoma is generally seen in middle aged to older dogs (median age, 6-9 years).
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Sadly, in the social media more often than not you can read posts from worried corgi owners that their pet has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Actually, cancer seems to be the most common cause of death in Corgis.
Kathryn St Thomas has kindly allowed me to share her experience when her Pembroke Teo was diagnosed with lymphoma.
I too was devastated by this diagnosis. Last fall (November 2017) I took my 8 year old Pem Teo to the vet for what I thought was a case of kennel cough. He was listless and his lungs sounded congested. When I got the news I thought it was a death sentence.
At Northwest Veterinary Specialists where we went for treatment, the goal is to keep the dog happy and feeling good during treatment. Dogs have short life spans anyway, and it would be inhumane to make them miserable in the hope of a permanent cure. Instead, the goal is to put the disease in remission for as long as possible. How long is "possible"?
According to our vet oncologist many dogs stay in remission for a year after treatment, and some do even better than that. The findings are that half of treated dogs do better than one year, and half do worse. My daughter's vet friend says she's known dogs who have remained healthy for several years post treatment. It all depends on the type of lymphoma, whether it's the more common treatable kind or the rarer, more severe type. And of course, the dog as an individual.
In Teo's case the lymphoma turned out to be the common treatable type, and at the oncology vet clinic (part of a big specialty practice) he started a three-month course of chemo. This meant appointments once a week with a particular 4-week protocol that repeated three times, for a total of twelve visits.
There are other options, of course. The simplest and cheapest is dosing with prednisone - but that usually relieves symptoms for only six weeks or so, and then the disease progresses again.
Yes, the chemo treatment is quite expensive. The total cost was about $6000 (thank goodness for pet insurance!) but it's been worth the expense to have Teo returned to his normal self. After the first couple of treatments, Teo was feeling much better and by the time the first 4-week protocol was complete, his blood work and lymph nodes had returned to normal. He ate well, felt playful, and went back to his favorite pastime - cadging treats at every opportunity. He was in remission. (Remission: Disappearance of the signs and symptoms of cancer or other disease. A remission can be temporary or permanent.)
Teo has done very well on the prescribed course of chemotherapy, which entailed treatments or blood work once a week for about three months. He ate in the usual ravenous way and we took our usual walks. His behavior was totally normal. The chemo dosages are calibrated to put the patient into remission but not make him sick. We were sent home with anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medication, but I had to use it just once.
He was only sick for 24 hours on one occasion during treatment, and that was when the oncologist experimented by giving him a higher dose of the chemo. With his bad reaction, she went back to her original dosage and all was well again and we had no further problems.
The oncologist explained that if, at the end of the first 30 days of treatment, the symptoms haven't disappeared, the protocol is discontinued. In other words, the chemo is pursued only if tests show it's working. If not, treatment probably becomes more palliative, but I'm unclear about that since, thankfully, we never had to face that situation.
There's no question that the lymphoma will shorten Teo's life because the disease will come back and further treatment will be required - though how much good it will do at that point is something I don't know. Now that the first chemo course is over, the vet still checks his blood and lymph once every 4-6 weeks to make sure all is well - and we're just hoping for the best.
Kathryn St. Thomas
Teo wearing his Harley Davidson motorcycle outfit for Halloween!